Hans Rosling is quickly becoming famous for wowing audiences with fun, dynamic graphics of demographic changes. In the video below (hat tip to A View From The Cave), the audience applauds more watching total fertility decline in colour than it does when he tries to explain why it is happening.
I really like Rosling’s approach to making complicated data more interesting to the general public and his belief that secular trends can be incredibly revealing. I’m less happy when he draws broad conclusions from what really just looks like extended eyeballing of his charts over time. In the talk from the video, Rosling charts countries by their majority religion (as far as I can see, ignoring within-country variation) and shows that reduction in fertility rates is pretty uniform across countries. He concludes that what matters for fertility isn’t religion but instead:
- Child mortality
- Child labour
- Women’s education and labour force participation
- The acceptability of family planning
I don’t doubt that, if you had a regression with total fertility on the left side and you controlled for these four things, religion wouldn’t have as large an “impact” on total fertility. However, I think the most pertinent question is: how much does religion matter for these four things? Rosling’s conclusion is that we need to attach these four things directly – a standard public health approach – but if religion (or, perhaps, religiosity, something left out of Rosling’s analysis entirely) is a determinant of these things, the standard approach might be less successful than we would hope.